[Updated on 1 June 2020] Growing up, you’d often get scolded to sit up and stop slouching, for no reason than it might make us have a bad posture. However, there so many other elements to the importance of posture, elements that are affecting millions of people today. So why is it hard to get and maintain good posture?
What is good posture?
Posture is how your skeleton and muscles hold the body erect. It’s the position your body takes when you are lying down, sitting, or standing. Good posture entails training your body to adopt a standing, sitting or lying habit that exerts the least amount of pressure on supporting ligaments and muscles during weight-bearing activities or movement.
We don’t consciously maintain posture. Instead, there is a certain muscle that does the work for our bodies, and you won’t even have to think about it, it’s automatic. There are some muscle groups such as large back muscles and hamstrings that are vital when it comes to maintaining good posture. And while your ligaments help hold the skeleton in one piece, when functioning properly, they restrict gravity from forcefully pushing us forward. Your postural muscles also maintain your posture and balance during movement.
Why is good posture critical?
Everyone wants to have a strong back that doesn’t cause any pain. And you often feel obligated to stand straight whenever you think of it, especially when you are in front of the mirror and you notice your posture is a bit off. But whether you are lounging at home in your bed, queueing at the bank or just trying to slump in your office chair, practicing good posture isn’t entirely difficult and will make a significant difference on how you feel. Keeping your spine aligned it’s also important, but for another reason as well.
According to Alexander Rances, DO, North Shore University in Manhasset, “maintaining good posture can help reduces the strain on your ligaments as well as the muscles that support your spine. Poor posture leads to muscle spasm, fatigue, and increased pain.”
Why is good posture important?
Having good posture, therefore, isn’t just important when you are standing. It’s about how you position yourself when you are sitting, lying down or bending over. Here are a few reasons why good posture is important.
You will be the best version of yourself.
Your posture greatly influences the way you run, walk or do just about any physical activity. It’s amazing how much you’ll get into shape once you improve on it, relieving pressure from your joints and muscle through good posture will mean that your body will need less energy to perform simple tasks such as getting out of a chair. Meaning you will feel fresher even after having a long day.
If you have a hard time keeping your balance sometimes, it could be because of bad posture. A study done by the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada revealed that centering your weight over your feet is vital to maintaining balance.
Helps you breathe at ease
Did you know that posture affects your breathing? Well, sitting down in a crumpled position can constrict your airways making it hard to catch your breath. Not properly straightening your back will also leave your ribcage in an unnatural position, which further adds pressure to your lungs.
This is important advice for anyone who occasionally has panic attacks. Not being able to catch your breath is one of the most frightening symptoms here, and having poor posture can make it a lot more difficult regaining composure.
You will defy gravity
Gravity is a good thing, but for those with bad posture, it can be the beginning of a lot of problems. You might have not heard this before, but the force of gravity exerts pressure on your joints, muscles and soft tissues 24 hours a day. Having poor posture can make this burden hard to handle. In essence, having good posture allows the effects of gravity to be felt evenly across your body. Bad posture means that some parts of your body will have to work harder than they naturally should. In the long term, that could be troublesome.
Putting pressure over a long time on your joints causes your connective tissues to wear away. This results in your bones rubbing against each other. This is not only uncomfortable but has the capability of leading to conditions like arthritis.
Your spine will also feel the strain of poor posture. Having too much pressure here will increase the likelihood of a slipped disc trapped nerve.
You will be more confident
Perception is important, and according to psychological expert Amy Cuddy, having a good posture has a significant effect on how others see you. By standing up straight, you add authority and height to your figure, which also makes you look slimmer and younger in contrast with a slumped, slouched posture associated with introverted unhappy people.
Promotes good digestion
Slouching your body puts a lot of pressure to your internal organs, making digestion difficult. Having poor posture can be cited as a potential cause of medical issues like hernias, acid reflux, and constipation. Therefore, it’s worth seeing whether or not standing or sitting could help here.
How does your posture get bad?
Human beings are creatures of habit. Most of the time, we do the same thing day in and day out without realizing that over time these things hurt us. Therefore, whether it’s leaning on one leg when you are standing or spending too much time sitting, these things could ultimately cause your posture to deteriorate.
Since it’s so incremental, you avoid facing that these habits have a significant effect on your quality of life and self-confidence. Instead, we favor living with these issues. After some time you look into the mirror and realize that your body is out of sync. It’s only at this point that you begin to entertain the idea of fixing these issues once and for all. But where will you begin?
What’s the difficulty in attaining posture?
One of the problems most pain patients have is that they are aware that their posture is a contributing factor to their pain. However, they are still incapable of maintaining proper position for more than a couple of minutes.
Don’t get this wrong; it’s not that they are genetic slouchers, but rather, they have trained their bodies to have bad posture over a long period forcing changes in their muscles and joints that prevent them from straightening out.
It’s not uncommon to find tight and fibrous pectoralis muscles in their chests that pull their shoulders forward. It is combined with weak shoulder blades that strain to fight gravity and the chest when driving or sitting at the computer.
Having this forward shoulder position exerts extra stress on your muscles from your shoulders to your neck and pulls your head forward too. And before long, you’ll be stuck in a position, and no amount of pressure will help you sit up straight.
Ironically, we gain our stability through our inherent instability, which probably sounds counter-intuitive. A problem that is common with older people with posture problems is that their fear of falling increase their chances of falling since they will try to tighten up to erroneously find stability.
So, what interferes with your postural reflexes? Habit and lifestyle.
Is there such a thing like good posture?
To the general public, yes there is, and the best assumption is, “sitting up straight.” When you are at work, it’s reinforced by ergonomic programmes meant to prevent back pain. However, there is no agreed gold standard for good posture.
According to a study carried out on 295 physiotherapists asking them to pick out the perfect posture in pictures that ranged from upright to slouch. 85% of the participants choose one of two postures, which were very different. One had less lumbar curve can have the capability of causing great discomfort and tiredness, while the other had a lumbar curve, which the researchers defended there was no risk of back pain.
According to Kieran O’ Sullivan, senior lecturer at the University of Limerick and Physiotherapist at Sports and Spine Center Aspetar Hospital, Qatar, “Rather than focus on the right posture, the ability to be able to vary it shifting it easily is more important. While it might be appealing to think that if you sit up straight will alleviate you from back pain, its not something that is supported by big studies across the world.”
Good posture is your natural position that supports and balances the musculoskeletal system. The balance of the joints, spinal curves, muscles, and weight-bearing activities against the force of gravity are key factors. Your Muscle needs to be strong, adaptable to a changing environment. Your muscle and joints work together continuously against gravity and in harmony with one another to maintain a healthy posture.
Misconception about posture
It’s important to understand that standing tall or straight is not the best posture. Ideally, a person standing with their knees slightly bent and shoulders slightly back are the optimum position. This posture maintains a healthy pelvis, thoracic and cervical spinal curves, and therefore a healthy vertical equilibrium.
The APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) defines a good standing posture as an alignment of your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle being visible on the side when sitting up straight, erect head and back posture with three natural spinal curves. When sleeping, spinal curvatures should be maintained with the help of pillows, and proper mattresses and the head and neck properly supported so that they remain at the same level as your upper back.
Causes of poor posture
- The most common reason for postural problems is poor postural habits. This poor postural habit is witnessed every day at home, work or school and even during sports. It’s very common in the workplace that often requires long hours of sitting or standing. Bad sleeping posture is also another common cause of poor posture.
- Having muscle contracture or imbalance can lead to poor posture. For instance, tight iliopsoas muscle increases lumbar lordosis in the lumbar spine.
- Having pain in the spine due to various reasons such as nerve root impingement or disc lesion can also cause poor posture. Your body will unconsciously adopt a body posture that reduces pain which results in spinal deformities like scoliosis.
- Various conditions like loss of proprioception, general weakness, muscle spasm, excess weight, respiratory conditions, and other various pathological conditions can also lead to poor posture.
What are the major issues that you could experience with the poor postural habit?
- Sore muscles
- Joint subluxations and dislocations
- Prone to injuries like sports
- Blood vessel constrictions
- Respiratory insufficiencies or constrictions
- Abnormal gait
- Nerval entrapment or contractions
So how can bad posture be reversed?
Normally, nonstructural postural faults are relatively easier to fix if patients follow proper assessments. When the problem is identified, there are various exercises or therapeutic management that are effective.
Patients could loosen the tight muscles and remove the fibrous scar tissues that have formed over the years. Making adjustments to your upper body and the joint to your neck will help loosen the tight muscles increasing flexibility in the area. After your chest is loosened, you have to teach your shoulder blade muscles to do their job to prevent your chest from tightening again.
How to maintain a good posture
If you work in an office, sitting in the correct position can be difficult. The best thing to do in such a situation is to remember to have a good posture. When working on your desk, it’s important to keep your back straight to prevent your shoulders from rolling forwards.
Make sure your weight is evenly distributed and keep your feet flat on the ground. Your chair needs to be adjusted in such a way your knees bend at a 90-degree angle. Crossing your legs while working for prolonged periods will worsen your back pain.
You could also use standing desks to break up long periods. Just remember is recommended to stand no more than 30 minutes at a time to guard you against worsening your symptoms and fatigue.
Standing in line
Slouching is inevitable especially when you are fatigued. Remind yourself to maintain good posture while standing. Ensure your weight is on the balls of your feet, your knees should be slightly bent, and feet positioned shoulder-width apart. Let your arms hang naturally but not locked.
This isn’t an easy practice to pick up at first. It takes a lot of strength to stand up straight and not to stick out your hips, buttocks, and knees. You could also ask your physician to recommend exercises that will retain and strengthen your core so that you can stand tall and avoid slouching.
Lounging in bed
Don’t we all love snuggling in bed? And better yet when you are feeling lazy and planning on a long night of watching TV. Well, it’s important to pay attention to how you position your body when watching television in bed since it creates excessive strain on your lower back and neck.
When horizontal avoid lying on your back with your head bent on a large angle on a pillow. This puts stress in your neck and shoulders. Instead, put pillows behind your back for support, bend your legs and put a pillow under your knees.
Reducing the strain on your spine is the key to preventing injury while lifting. When lifting heavy objects, try to maintain an upright posture while bending your hips and knees as you tighten your abdominal muscles.
It might feel easier to bend over and lift a load, resist that temptation. Instead move as close as possible to the load, being close to the load will put less force on your lower back. When squatting down to pick up the load, ensure you remain upright.
The driver’s seat in many vehicles can be a challenge since it is molded in a way that makes it impossible to seat straight. It’s important to sit as upright as possible during driving. You could place a lumbar pillow at the lower back in case it feels uncomfortable.
Your vehicle’s seat back should be stationed to support a tall spine. It shouldn’t be too close to the steering wheel either; your arms need to be able to move easily not compressing your shoulders together.
Adjust your seat so that your knees are higher than your hip. Change your lumbar support so that it seats at the curve of your back when you get to a stop sign or in traffic stretch. Stretching helps reduce stress, pain, and fatigue to the lower back. A simple stretching exercise is to roll your back forward away from your seat for five seconds and then slowly roll it towards your seat and hold it for five seconds.
You could also rotate your trunk to one side for five seconds while keeping your back straight, and then rotating it to the other side. You can repeat this exercise several times while stuck in traffic or on a stop sign.
What causes your posture to deteriorate?
How your body posture looks today is a result of years of activity. Over extended periods, the stress of a poor body structure can change the anatomical characteristics of your spine. This may lead to the constriction of blood vessels and nerves, problems with joints, discs, and muscles.
If you are tall, you often slouched to avoid attention in a crowd or school. A shorter person will overstretch themselves to look taller, which results in a poor posture. Also, most of us spend hours every day sitting at a desk where it’s easy to let our posture slip. Over extended periods, these habits have a lasting impact on our overall posture. Picking up the right habits will go a long way in avoiding chronic pains that are associated with poor posture.
Understanding your posture
The first step involved in improving your posture is getting to know what exactly you might be doing wrong when you sit, stand or lie. The best method you could use to know your posture is healthy is to observe yourself as you walk. Focus on your body movements.
Note down what you see. This information will help you determine the locations and time that result in poor posture. A healthy posture is easy to check by easy, graceful walking, an unhealthy posture, on the other hand, will look disconnected and labored. You could ask someone to take note of your walking to makes things easier. Another method you can use to check your posture is to stand sideways in front of a mirror.